Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Hearne task force suit settled! Reform bills move

ACLU's racial profiling lawsuit against the drug task force in Hearne, TX has settled! No details are public yet, but a series of rulings last month against the task force's defense team apparently caused them to reconsider their balls-to-the-wall, win-at-any-cost approach they'd fronted the past couple of years. The case had been scheduled to go to trial in federal court in Waco on May 23.

Meanwhile, the Texas Legislature yesterday continued its efforts to rein in drug task forces. HB 1239 passed in the Senate on second reading, and is likely to be finally voted on today. Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa substituted a new version of the bill he said he'd negotiated with the Governor's office. Rather than abolish local drug task forces, it gives the Texas Department of Public Safety the statutory authority to exercise firmer command and control over them, including decisions about where they should be deployed, plus new tools to punish drug task forces that don't comply with DPS rules. The geographic makeup of Byrne-funded drug task forces has previously been a political, not a strategic decision - at the moment, not even all of the border counties receive coverage.

I'd much rather see the task forces simply abolished. The whole system is flawed and corrupt. But the truth is, I'd expect the really bad actors might disband, anyway, rather than comply with DPS Narcotics' much more stringent standards for drug operations. At least regarding undercover operations and confidential informant use, DPS is a much more professional outfit than any of the task forces, and their Standard Operating Procedures require much more accountability of drug enforcement than typical task force rules. Don't get me wrong, DPS still has its problems, but they're not in the same league with these task force clowns.

In the other chamber, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee canceled its hearing last night and so did not consider SB 1125, which would force rogue drug task forces to accept supervision from the Texas Department of Public Safety Narcotics Division or else be abolished. When Gov. Perry ordered Texas' Byrne grant funded drug task forces under DPS authority, several of them with large amounts of asset forfeiture income decided to reject oversight and live solely off their forfeiture money. Hinojosa's bill would ban that practice.

This nasty trend toward financing your base budget out of asset forfeiture funds is a truly awful idea. If you want to see how reliance on forfeiture money skews drug enforcement priorities,
check out this fine article from the Chicago Tribune about asset forfeiture practices in rural Georgia.

1 comment:

Gritsforbreakfast said...

In other words, modern asset forfeiture laws are structurally less accountable than the Spanish Inquisition. What more to add?